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Saturday, November 19, 2016

105. Labor Becomes Expendable: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Labor Becomes Expendable 

One dramatic illustration of the positive philosophy in action is written in coal dust. As a 
heat source, coal seems a simple trade-off: we accept environmental degradation and the 
inevitable death and crippling of a number of coalminers (350,000 accidental deaths since 
1800, 750,000 cases of black lung disease, and an unknown number of permanent and 
temporary injuries) in exchange for warmth in cold weather and for other good things. 
But all sorts of unpredictable benefits flowed from the struggle to make the business of 
keeping warm efficient, and the world of forced schooling was dictated by coal. 

Consider the romantic gaslight era which by 1870, as far away as Denver and San 
Francisco, graced the nights of American villages and cities with magical illumination 
made possible by coal gas produced when coal is purified into coke. In addition to 
allowing the steel industry to replace the iron industry, this major unforeseen benefit 
turned night into day as settlements blazed with light. And with illumination, coal had 
only just begun to share its many secrets. It was also a storehouse of chemical wealth out 
of which the modern chemical industry was born. Coke ovens produced ammonia liquor 
as a byproduct from which agricultural fertilizer is easily prepared; it's also a basis for 
cheap, readily available, medium-yield explosives. 

Coal yields benzol and tars from which our dyes and many modern medicines are made; 
it yields gas which can be converted into electrical energy; it yields perfumes and dozens 
of other useful things. During the production of coal gas, sulphur — the source of sulfuric 
acid vital to many chemical processes — is collected. Coal tar can further be refined into 
kerosene. From 1850 to 1860, the German scientist August Wilhelm von Hoffmann, 
working at the Royal College of Chemistry in England, made discoveries inspired by 



coal's extraordinary hidden potential which elevated chemistry into a national priority in 
those countries which maintained extra-territorial ambitions like the United States. By 
1 896, heavier-than-air flight had been achieved long before the Wright brothers when a 
pilotless steam airplane with a forty foot wingspan began making trips along the Potomac 
River near Washington in full view of many important spectators. 

As great as coal and steam engines were at stimulating social ferment, they met their 
master in oil and the internal combustion engine. Coal is twice as efficient an energy 
source as wood; oil twice as efficient as coal. Oil made its debut just as the Civil War 
began. As with coal, there had been ancient references to this form of liquid coal in 
Strabo, Dioscorides, and Pliny. Records exist of its use in China and Japan in the Pre- 
Christian era (Marco Polo described the oil springs of Baku at the end of the thirteenth 
century). All that was needed was an engine adapted to its use. 

The first patent for the use of gasoline motive power was issued in England in 1794. By 
1820 at Cambridge University men knew how to use gas to move machinery. By 1860 
gas engines were in limited use all over Europe, four hundred in Paris alone. The first 
American exploitation of any importance occurred at Seneca Lake, New York, in 1859, 
not a long ride from the ancestral home of the Rockefeller family in the town of 
Bainbridge. Following the lead of coal, oil was soon producing a fossil-fuel 
transformation of American society, even though irregular supply kept oil from achieving 
its dominant place in the energy pantheon quickly. But by 1898 the supply problem was 
solved. Twelve years later, oil replaced coal as the energy of choice, delivering 
advantages by weight, saving labor in transit, storage, and extraction, and just as with 
coal, undreamed of bonus benefits were harvested from oil. In 1910, a windfall of 3 
million horsepower hours was generated from waste gas alone, thrown off by oil used in 
blast furnace operation. 

Burying Children Alive 

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